In the management arena, Microsoft competitors abound
Microsoft has done a good job of marketing its management offerings over the past couple of years. The company established Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) as the platform for Change and Configuration Management (CCM) in Windows environments and introduced Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) for operations management and Application Center 2000 for distributed-application management. Microsoft's push to make the OS more manageable yields dividends for Microsoft and for management product vendors. And as a result of all this attention to management, administrators now have better tools to help them keep systems running at peak performance.
Although there's no reason to doubt Microsoft when it says that it wants to have the best managed OS available, that probably isn't the only reason for the company recently bolstering its management products. The management market holds the promise of profits, and a quickly expanding segment of that market belongs to Windows. Like many Microsoft offerings, though, Redmond's management products leave room for cooperating partners to provide enhancements and integration options. These enhancements run the gamut from niche utilities to tools for integrating enterprise-management platforms.
Although Microsoft is picking up steam in the management arena, Redmond is neither first nor foremost in this market. Vendors such as BMC Software, Computer Associates (CA), Hewlett-Packard (HP), and IBM have been in the market for a long time. The maturation of these and other companies' products reflects the maturation of management standards and initiatives industrywide. As a result, products from many vendors can interoperate. The upside of this capability isn't that you can use different vendors' products to piece together a management solution, but that your management solution should be able to integrate with other solutions if the landscape of your IT organization changes through acquisitions or mergers. In addition, if you identify a specific area that your primary management platform doesn't address, you'll be able to integrate a third-party solution into your organization's management product.
In the next several pages, I take you on a whirlwind tour of the upper echelon of management products. I discuss what they do and how they compare. I also explore some alternative products, as well as niche add-ons that strive to provide that can't-live-without-it functionality to your management implementation.
Microsoft's Management Strategy
Microsoft's approach to management is four-pronged. With Windows 2000, the server OS became the primary management enabler. SMS, arguably the most mature Microsoft management technology, delivers CCM. Relative newcomers Application Center and MOM round out the management picture.
Win2K's manageability features include Group Policy, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Active Directory (AD), Windows Script Host (WSH), and Win2K Server Terminal Services. These types of features make the Windows environment easy to manage for third-party tools as well as Microsoft's tools.
SMS is Microsoft's CCM workhorse on Windows-based desktops and servers. Hardware and software inventorying and software metering provide the information administrators need to plan deployments and migrations. Software packaging and distribution dramatically reduce deployment time and thus the total cost of ownership (TCO) for desktop systems. Diagnostic tools such as remote control, network monitoring, and tracing tools can reduce the time required to diagnose and resolve problems. SMS is highly scalable, using a multi-tiered hierarchy and a Microsoft SQL Server back end. You must install the SMS client on each managed device.
Application Center is a tightly focused product for managing high-availability Web applications on Win2K Server. Application Center simplifies deployment of such applications by hiding the complexity of the environment. Application Center's software scaling lets you add servers to increase an application's capacity. The product also ensures that applications remain available when a system is down or experiences a failure.
For operations management, Microsoft licensed management software from NetIQ, added inhouse intelligence, and branded the new product Microsoft Operations Manager. MOM delivers comprehensive operations management for a broad spectrum of Windows servers and applications. MOM's features include event management, proactive monitoring, reporting, trend analysis, and alerting. Overall, MOM is built on a highly scalable load-balancing architecture that is relatively easy to deploy regardless of the size of your organization. Agents that you deploy to managed systems monitor overall system health, and application-specific agents provide detailed application metrics. As you might imagine, one of MOM's strengths is its built-in knowledge. Out of the box, MOM can monitor and manage Win2K and everything else, such as Microsoft IIS, that comes on the OS CD-ROM. MOM's base functionality includes monitoring for SMS, but for other Microsoft servers, such as SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server, you need to buy specific management packs. MOM is a fairly robust solution for Windows operations management, but it lacks support for other enterprise computing platforms. However, MOM conforms to management standards to enable integration with upper-level management solutions.
The Big Four of Third-Party Management Vendors
BMC Software, CA, HP, and IBM are the top four network and systems management vendors. They all provide solutions for a wide range of platforms and technologies and are scalable for true enterprise application—using these vendors' products to manage tens of thousands of heterogeneous nodes isn't out of the ordinary. Products that have this level of coverage and scalability can be expensive to implement and require expertise to manage. However, the big four vendors are working to make their products easier to implement and use through enhancements such as out-of-the-box automation and refined installation processes.
Nevertheless, a comprehensive enterprise-level management solution isn't something that you install and start using in a day. HP and IBM hold a slight advantage for large implementations because they have internal consulting groups to assist with customer installations. CA and BMC Software use external systems integrators to help customers with their implementations.
Because these vendors provide management umbrellas that cover all management activities within an organization, open standards and integration tools are imperative. For example, a large company might use several products from two or more of these vendors to manage various applications. The goal for such products is to provide a centralized operations center to which all events from the disparate management applications bubble up. The big four vendors understand the crucial need to adhere to standards and develop ways to interoperate with one another. Although the vendors don't go out of their way to advertise that their solutions work with their competitors' products, interoperability is developing behind the scenes.
In terms of product delivery, the big four take a similar approach: You purchase the management modules you need one by one and plug them into your overall solution. Some differences exist in the vendors' approaches to marketing the integration components of their offerings, however. Although some vendors' components can function on a standalone basis without relying on an underlying framework, a full-blown centralized management implementation is functionally the same from one vendor to the next. Nevertheless, to appear unique, vendors have coined different terms for their centralized management infrastructures.
BMC Software's PATROL
BMC Software's PATROL solutions are capable of functioning with or without an encompassing management umbrella, although they integrate fully with the company's centralized management tool, PATROL Enterprise Manager. PATROL solutions use agents that run on managed systems. The agents gather basic system data as well as data from any installed Knowledge Modules (i.e., modules geared toward monitoring and managing a specific application or area of functionality). For example, an agent on a managed server would gather information from the PATROL for Microsoft SQL Server Knowledge Module, which delivers in-depth SQL management capabilities.
PATROL's concentration on infrastructure- and service-level management has led BMC Software to forsake CCM capabilities, such as asset management and software distribution. Third-party applications are available that can integrate with the PATROL architecture and provide these capabilities.
BMC stresses what it calls the sliding scale of manageability, which refers to the various levels of management that the servers in your infrastructure require. For example, although you'll want to manage all aspects of the servers that host your enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) applications, on a simple file server, you might need to manage just the integral system components, such as memory, disk space, and processor use. A more granular approach to management is often more expensive, so BMC Software offers PATROL Express for lighter management applications.
Over the past few years, BMC has spent a lot of time and effort acquiring and integrating key management technologies into its portfolio. As a result, the company has slipped somewhat from its previously dominant position. However, it still has a firm grasp on managing very large environments and is making its product more adaptable to smaller customers. And the company's recent efforts to strengthen its product line will make BMC Software stronger and better able to compete on a feature-by-feature basis.
CA's Unicenter products provide a highly integrated approach to managing the extended enterprise for continuous availability and optimal performance. CA's Unicenter Network and Systems Management offering comprises three main solutions: Unicenter Network and Systems Management 3.0, Unicenter Advanced Network Operations, and Unicenter Performance Management. These solutions provide services such as network and systems management, automated operations, IT resource management, database management, Web infrastructure management, and application management.
CA's most recent Unicenter offering strays from the framework concept the company established with its earlier Unicenter TNG product. The solutions themselves provide a common set of services that let you integrate third-party devices and technology in addition to the separate solutions. You can purchase and deploy today's Unicenter solutions in any order, as you need them, without an underlying framework component.
Like its competitors, CA strives to ensure the delivery of IT services by letting you manage all the resources necessary for delivering those services. To that end, Unicenter infrastructure-management solutions let you use business process views (so that you can monitor each process as a whole instead of its individual components) and drive actions and alerts from a service-level perspective (i.e., send alerts to administrators only when the software can't maintain a minimum level of service). CA also has a new management portal capable of delivering personalized views of the infrastructure. The goal of management from a service-level and business-process perspective is faster resolution of problems and lower IT training costs.
CA does an outstanding job of providing management coverage across the spectrum of enterprise systems and applications. Except for CCM for desktops, you'd be hard-pressed to find a leading platform or application for which CA doesn't have a solution.
HP OpenView solutions concentrate on being easy to install and use while delivering powerful features and functionality. HP OpenView Operations for Windows (OVOW), the centralized console component, is a platform for centralized management of distributed e-business infrastructures. (A version of the console is also available for UNIX.) Through smart plugins, you can obtain extended management capabilities for platforms such as Exchange and AD.
The console component uses Microsoft Management Console (MMC) functionality; a Web-based GUI is also available. After you install agent software on all systems from which you want to collect application, network, database, or Internet-related metrics, OVOW sends the agent-collected data to the console for processing and management. The agents gather what HP refers to as 30 golden metrics, which are consistent across all managed platforms, and approximately 120 additional metrics for specific platforms.
At the OVOW console, built-in service views and service mapping let you manage from a service-driven perspective. As OVOW receives problem events, it can take automated action on some events and send others to an administrator for action. Although HP OpenView doesn't address change and configuration management directly, HP partners provide application distribution and asset management.
In addition to closely integrating management services with its own server products, HP has a foot in the door with many companies through its HP OpenView Network Node Manager product. And, thanks to the merger with Compaq, HP has a strong internal consulting group that customers can call on for implementation assistance.
The folks at IBM have been in the management business for more than 25 years and have integrated the knowledge and processes amassed during that time into an array of solutions under the Tivoli umbrella. Tivoli solutions can operate on a standalone basis if the customer wants to use them that way, but like competitive products, all the individual Tivoli solutions integrate into a centralized console.
Tivoli categorizes its management solutions according to their functionality: security, storage, performance and availability, and configuration and operations. Those categories encompass a host of solutions ranging from the must-haves, such as IBM Tivoli Monitoring, to more esoteric solutions, such as Tivoli e-Marketplace Manager.
Tivoli has a CCM tool called IBM Tivoli Configuration and Operations. This tool distributes software, manages the change and control of IT assets, automates workflow, and lets you control systems remotely. IBM Tivoli also stresses the notion of autonomic computing, which the company defines as using technology to manage technology so as to reduce the cost and complexity of owning and operating computing systems. The company's management offerings work together toward this principle by automating diagnostics, configuration, optimization, problem correction, and other processes.
One of IBM's strengths is its internal consulting group, which assists with large implementations so that the company doesn't need to rely on systems integrators. The breadth of the company's solutions, its experience in the management arena, and its stability are also important in the eyes of prospective customers.
Other Management Solutions
Organizations that don't need or aren't ready for a network and system management product from one of the big four vendors can find some good solutions for managing smaller, less diverse environments. NetIQ has a variety of solutions for managing Windows, SQL Server, and Exchange environments as well as products for performance, security, Internet, and voice/video management. Quest Software's Foglight and Spotlight solutions monitor business applications and OSs for potential problems and use built-in diagnostics to resolve problems. Aelita Software takes a business-centric approach to operations management and targets its offerings to specific business types. Historical data analysis is an important component of Aelita's management vision. BindView is a heavy hitter in the security management arena and, like Aelita, targets its products at specific business segments. A longtime competitor to SMS, the Novell ZENworks line of management solutions offer software distribution, asset management, and operations management for desktops, servers, handhelds, and enterprise services. In Heroix eQ Management Suite, Heroix offers an extensive selection of products for managing applications, servers, databases, messaging systems, Web and e-commerce systems, and infrastructure devices. Concord and Argent Software also offer targeted management alternatives to the big four vendors for managing your systems. Table 1, page 18, shows a feature comparison of the leading network- and system-management vendors. For information about specific products from all these vendors, see the 2003 Summer Annual Online Vendor Directory, http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 38819.
Third-Party Add-Ons to Microsoft Management Solutions
SMS does many things well, but like most products, it has room for improvement in certain areas. 1E has three noteworthy add-ons to SMS: SMSWakeUp, SMSNomad, and Client Installation Service (CIS). SMSWakeUp facilitates off-hours SMS activities, such as software distribution and inventory, by automatically turning on one or more networked PCs. SMSNomad provides features such as intelligent bandwidth allocation and restartable downloads to ease the headaches of distributing software across low-bandwidth links. CIS is a simple SMS client installation that you can use if standard SMS discovery and installation methods aren't suitable (e.g., if you don't want to use logon scripts). Aelita SnapReports for Microsoft SMS is an SMS-specific reporting tool that lets administrators more quickly create meaningful reports from SMS repository data than they can with SMS's native tools. Altiris, a longtime SMS collaborator, offers four tools that add value to SMS implementations. Web Administrator for SMS presents functionality from the SMS console in a Web interface, including remote control and reporting. Helpdesk Solution is tightly integrated with SMS and lets you leverage data that SMS maintains for Help desk solutions. Mobile Client for SMS leverages your SMS infrastructure while providing specialized management capabilities geared toward mobile clients. UNIX Client for SMS lets you manage UNIX systems through SMS just as you do Windows systems. CompuThoughts' SMSworks utility provides better control than SMS does over the software installation process by managing installation privileges and giving you more control over application settings. Fujitsu's Systemwalker products integrate with SMS to provide support for a broad spectrum of platforms and services. FullArmor's FAZAM for Windows NT lets SMS administrators lock down applications when they're deployed.
Gravity Square's GSI Advanced Scheduler for SMS 2.0 integrates with SMS to provide tighter control over when software packages are distributed so that you can minimize interruption of managed systems during the hours they are in use. Mobile Automation's Mobile Lifecycle Management Suite extends SMS's capabilities for managing remote systems such as laptops, Microsoft Windows CE—based devices, and Palm OS—based devices. ManageSoft integrates with and extends SMS by providing enhanced inventory data as well as robust remote and mobile-device management. NetIQ's AppManager for Microsoft Systems Management Server provides monitoring and management for SMS's core services and performance metrics to ensure that your SMS implementation is healthy and running at peak efficiency. Tally Systems' PowerCensus enhances SMS's inventory process by providing more accurate hardware- and software-recognition capabilities. XcelleNet's Afaria offers SMS administrators extended support for mobile and wireless computing devices, including laptops, PDAs, interactive pagers, and smart phones.
Since MOM's inception, Microsoft's plan has been to provide the tools for managing the Windows infrastructure and let third parties create tools for managing other infrastructure pieces. Citrix Systems and Compaq have created tools for managing Citrix MetaFrame XPe servers and HP's ProLiant servers, respectively, through MOM. Crystal Decisions has created a reporting tool for MOM. FullArmor's FAZAM Auditing for MOM lets you perform realtime monitoring and reporting on IT policy changes within the MOM Administrator Console. Global MainTech extends MOM's enterprise management capabilities with its management packs for a range of platforms, including IBM's iSeries, MVS, UNIX, Linux, and networking hardware. HP has built a MOM integration point into HP OpenView Service Desk so that MOM events can automatically generate trouble tickets. NEON Systems' iWave Adapter for Microsoft Operations Manager allows for bidirectional integration between MOM and a Help desk solution such as Remedy Help Desk, Tivoli Service Desk, or Siebel Systems' Siebel Call Center. NetIQ is a major contributor in the third-party space with its Extended Management Pack (XMP) modules for managing a wide range of platforms and applications. NetIQ has solutions for NT 4.0, Novell NetWare, Linux, Sun Microsystems' Solaris, IBM's Lotus Domino, and Oracle RDBMS Server, in addition to XMPs for managing security and Web services. NetIQ also offers migration management packs for integrating MOM with network- and software-management products from other vendors. For a listing of vendors and their add-on products for SMS and MOM, see Table 2.
If none of the available centralized management solutions fit your organization, you can still pick and choose from an array of point applications (i.e., applications that target a specific management area). These applications are good at what they do, and they should integrate with a larger management platform if your company decides to implement one in the future. Table 3, page 22, lists many of the available point products.
Regardless of your environment's size or complexity, many management options are at your disposal. If you have a predominantly Windows environment, Microsoft's offerings are a good place to start looking. As you add other platforms and applications to the mix, you might need a solution such as one of those from BMC Software, CA, HP, or IBM Tivoli. If one application is at the core of your business, perhaps a point solution will cover all your management needs.
- In Ed Roth's "Enterprise Management Options" (May 15, 2003, http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 38735), the network- and system-management features supported by Argent Software and NetIQ were listed incorrectly in Table 1. To access the corrected table, go to http://www.winnetmag.com/content/content/38735/Table_01.pdf. In addition, products from Vector Networks and Marimba were listed incorrectly in Table 3. To access the corrected table, go to http://www.winnetmag.com/content/content/38735/Table_03.pdf. We regret any inconvenience this error might have caused.